Travis Demeritte is one of the most intriguing players on the Mississippi Braves’ roster. He is a former first-round draft pick. He has played in an All-Star Futures Game and two minor league all-star games. He has hit as many as 28 homers in a season and swiped as many as 17 bases in a season. He stands 6 feet, weighs 180 pounds and can play second base, third and left field. MLB Pipeline rates him the 19th-best prospect in a strong Atlanta system. Yet many M-Braves fans must be wondering, When is Demeritte going to break out? With roughly a month and a half left in his second Double-A campaign, Demeritte is hitting .221 with 11 homers and four bags. He has struck out an even 100 times in 308 at-bats. If the M-Braves, currently 15-14 and 6 games out of first, are going to make any kind of run at a playoff spot in the Southern League South, more production from the 23-year-old Demeritte would be a big help. When the Braves acquired him from Texas (for two pitching prospects) in the summer of 2016, the trade generated some buzz. Demeritte was batting .272 with 25 homers and 13 steals in 88 games in the Class A California League. He added three homers and four steals in 35 games for the Braves’ high-A club. But he did punch out a bunch, and that trend continued in his Double-A debut last year. He hit 15 homers in 124 games – and made the SL All-Star Game – but all in all, it was a disappointing year. There hasn’t been much to shout about in 2018, either, but there is still time – for him and his club. The M-Braves begin a stretch of 10 straight home games tonight, facing Mobile at Trustmark Park. P.S. One of Mobile’s hottest hitters is Jack Kruger, the ex-Mississippi State star drafted by the Los Angeles Angels in 2016. Kruger, a catcher, has hit .333 his last 10 games and is at .308 with four homers and 15 RBIs in 25 games. He was promoted to Double-A Mobile on June 21, when Meridian Community College alum Wade Wass, also a catcher, retired and opened a roster spot.
This year was going to be different for Zack Cozart. After enduring four straight losing seasons in Cincinnati, the ex-Ole Miss star signed as a free agent with the Los Angeles Angels, a star-studded club expected to contend for the postseason. If the Angels do make the playoffs, Cozart will only be watching. The team announced Wednesday night that the veteran infielder will have season-ending shoulder surgery. The news broke during the Angels’ game at Boston, and MLB Network analyst Tom Verducci called it “a key injury” for the team, which is winning but still searching for top-of-the-lineup consistency. “That’s another option that is gone now,” Verducci said. Cozart, a 2017 National League All-Star who batted .297 with 24 homers for the Reds, had been slow to adjust to his new league, batting .219 with five homers in 58 games. He had started at third base, second and shortstop. This is the second major injury for the 32-year-old in four years; he missed most of the 2015 season with a knee.
This weekend’s Subway Series is the first for Ole Miss product Mickey Callaway as New York Mets manager. The scuffling Mets, losers of six straight, host the rampaging Yankees – whose hitting coach is Louisville native Marcus Thames — for three games at CitiField, all coming to a TV network near you. Mississippi State product Jonathan Holder (2.75 ERA) has done good work out of the Yankees’ bullpen. … An injury to Andrelton Simmons has meant a return to shortstop for Zack Cozart. The Ole Miss alum, signed by the Los Angeles Angels in the off-season to man third base, actually has moved about quite a bit on the dirt for L.A. He has 32 starts at third, 15 at second and five at short, the position he played for seven seasons with Cincinnati. Simmons, who could be out 2-6 weeks with an ankle sprain, might be the best defensive shortstop in the game, but Cozart is no slouch. In fact, Angels manager Mike Scioscia called him an “incredible shortstop.” What the Angels would like to see is a little more offense from their $38 million free agent, who is batting .229 with five homers and 18 RBIs. … Tonight, Cozart and the Angels will face Minnesota’s Lance Lynn, another former Rebels star. Lynn, also an off-season free agent signee, is 4-4 with a 5.46 for the Twins and has won three starts in a row. Worth noting: Cozart is .128 career vs. Lynn. … Arizona’s acquisition of outfielder Jon Jay might cut into Jarrod Dyson’s playing time. McComb native Dyson is hitting just .206 (with 10 steals) overall but is at .318 in his last seven games. And his defense is top-drawer. … Tonight marks a homecoming of sorts for Daniel Sweet, the Flowood native and former Northwest Rankin High star who plays for Pensacola, which is in Pearl for a five-game Southern League series against the Mississippi Braves. Sweet, a switch-hitting outfielder, is in his third season in the Cincinnati organization after being drafted out of Dallas Baptist. He is hitting .148 in 25 games for the Blue Wahoos in his first taste of Double-A. He was batting .284 in A-ball when he was promoted. … Tyler Marlette has been on a tear for the M-Braves, batting .382 in his last 10 games and .296 with six homers for the year. First baseman Marlette, 25, named to the SL All-Star Game on Wednesday, signed with Atlanta in the off-season after seven years in the Seattle organization. He is a career .272 hitter with 68 homers.
Desmond Jennings, the former Itawamba Community College star, is back in the game, playing for Monclova in the Mexican League. Jennings, who has 567 games of big league experience, was released twice by MLB teams in 2017 – Cincinnati in spring training and the New York Mets off their Triple-A roster in June. The 31-year-old outfielder still has some game, batting .339 with seven homers and 30 RBIs through 26 contests in Mexico, which is regarded as Triple-A level. Jennings, drafted by Tampa Bay in the 10th round in 2006, was a hot shot in the minors, winning Southern League MVP honors in 2009 and playing in two All-Star Futures Games. He hit .245 with 55 homers and 95 steals in his big league career; he last played in The Show with the Rays in 2016. … Alex Yarbrough, the ex-Ole Miss standout, is no longer in the game. The infielder retired quietly in February. Yarbrough, only 26, was a fourth-round pick by the Los Angeles Angels in 2012, earned Texas League player of the year honors in 2014 and reached Triple-A the next year. But that was his peak. He spent last year in the Double-A Southern League, batting .231 for Jacksonville in the Miami system.
With the score tied in the bottom of the ninth, the Detroit Tigers needed a baserunner. JaCoby Jones, leading off the inning, gave them one. The Richton High product delivered an infield single, went first to third on a hit by Niko Goodrum and scored the game-winning run on a single by Jose Iglesias. The 5-4 win on Sunday gave the short-handed Tigers a series victory against a good Seattle club. “I’m having a blast,” Jones said in an mlb.com article. “I think the whole clubhouse is having a blast.” Jones, playing regularly in the outfield, is batting .256 with 16 runs, two homers and eight RBIs. … At Anaheim, the Angels were tied with Minnesota in the ninth and had a runner at second with one out. Former Ole Miss star Zack Cozart stepped up and delivered a single to left, scoring Chris Young and giving the Angels a 2-1 win. It was the third hit of the game for Cozart, now batting .241 with 15 RBIs and five homers, and his second walk-off knock for Los Angeles. … In Phoenix, Arizona trailed Washington by three in the seventh but had runners at second and third with one out. Southwest Mississippi Community College alum Jarrod Dyson, sent up as a pinch hitter, smacked a two-run single and then sped home with the game-tying run on a double by Daniel Descalso. Despite Dyson’s efforts, the first-place Diamondbacks fell 6-4 as the Nationals completed a four-game sweep. Dyson is batting .184 with eight RBIs and nine runs in 87 at-bats.
Aside from nasty weather, what’s the biggest story in the big leagues to date? It’s a tough call. Shohei Ohtani and the surging Los Angeles Angels? The red-hot Boston Red Sox? The amazin’ New York Mets? A case could be made for any of the three first-place teams – and it’s interesting to note that there’s a Mississippi connection on each club. Ole Miss alum Zack Cozart has had an impact as a newcomer with the 13-3 Angels, batting .273 with two homers and seven RBIs. In Boston (13-2), which travels to Anaheim for a three-game set beginning Tuesday, former Mississippi State star Mitch Moreland is batting .292 in his sporadic calls to duty. And ex-UM star Drew Pomeranz should be joining the Red Sox rotation soon. The Mets, managed by former Ole Miss pitcher Mickey Callaway, have the best ERA in the majors and the best record (12-2) in the National League. They host NL East rival Washington in a big series starting tonight. For the record, the other first-place teams also have Mississippi ties: Southern Miss product Brian Dozier (.289, four homers) and Ole Miss’ Lance Lynn (0-1, 5.00 ERA) with Minnesota; Meridian Community College alum Corey Dickerson (.358, 12 RBIs) and ex-State star Adam Frazier (.250) with Pittsburgh (where Clint Hurdle is the manager); and Southwest CC product Jarrod Dyson (.176) with Arizona.
During the broadcast of Shohei Ohtani’s MLB pitching debut today on MLB Network, it was noted that only three players in big league history have produced both a 10-win season and a 10-home run season at some point in their career. Ohtani, whom the Los Angeles Angels plan to use as both a DH and a starting pitcher, did it in the same season twice in Japan. The great Babe Ruth did both in 1918, when he was with the Boston Red Sox, going 13-7 on the mound and hitting 11 homers, the first of 17 straight double-digit homer seasons. Rick Ankiel, who broke in as a pitcher and converted to the outfield, did it during his career (1999-2013) but not in the same season. The only other player to achieve this impressive feat was Jackson native Ewell Albert “Reb” Russell, who played in the early 1900s. Russell, a left-hander, won 23 games as a rookie for the Chicago White Sox in 1913 and posted three other double-digit win seasons before hurting his arm in 1918. He spent some time in the minors, came back to the big leagues in 1922 with Pittsburgh and belted 12 homers in 60 games. He hit nine more the next year in what was his final fling in the majors.
Star power abounds on the Los Angeles Angels’ roster. Mike Trout. Albert Pujols. Justin Upton. Shohei Ohtani (well, maybe). Into this galaxy comes Zack Cozart, the Ole Miss alum who arrived as a free agent in the off-season with a little brilliance of his own. An All-Star in Cincinnati, where he enjoyed a career year in 2017, Cozart will debut for the Angels today in Oakland, playing not just for a new team but at a new position. A shortstop virtually all of his baseball life, Cozart, at age 32, takes over at third base for the Angels. His situation is one of the most compelling storylines to watch among Mississippians in the majors in 2018. Cozart, who hit .297 with 24 homers last year, swung the bat well in the spring (.347, four homers). He wasn’t tested much in the field, handling just 15 chances (with one error) in 16 games. The Angels are projected by many to be a playoff team; their new third baseman could be a big factor in that quest. P.S. The A’s scheduled starter is Kendall Graveman, the former Mississippi State standout who went 6-4 with a 4.19 ERA in an injury-interrupted 2017 season. … Pittsburgh’s lineup at Detroit will include State product Adam Frazier leading off as the DH and Meridian Community College product Corey Dickerson playing left field and batting fifth in his Pirates debut. The game will be the first as Tigers manager for Ron Gardenhire, the former Jackson Mets infielder and ex-Minnesota skipper. … Also making a debut today will be ex-UM star Mickey Callaway, the longtime Cleveland pitching coach now managing the New York Mets, who open at CitiField against St. Louis. The Big Apple is not the place where you want to get off on the wrong foot. … MSU product Jacob Lindgren has undergone a second Tommy John procedure and will miss the 2018 season. Now in Atlanta’s organization, left-hander Lindgren missed all of 2017 and most of 2016 after making the big leagues with the New York Yankees in 2015.
Though it was widely assumed that Andrew McCutchen would take over in center field this season for San Francisco, it is being reported by ESPN that the Giants are interested in signing free agent Mississippian Jarrod Dyson and bumping the newly acquired McCutchen to a corner spot. Former Southwest Mississippi Community College standout Dyson is an outstanding defender who batted .251 with 28 steals for Seattle in 2017. … Having gone four years without a postseason at-bat in Cincinnati, Zack Cozart surely improved his chances of a 2018 playoff appearance by signing with the Los Angeles Angels as a free agent last month. As the Ole Miss product tells it (to mlb.com), “It’s tough to beat playing with Joey Votto, but now I’m going to the Angels and probably the best player in the world (Mike Trout) is on the team, and I played against Albert (Pujols) early on when he was on the Cardinals, so I know how good he can be.” Cozart will join fellow newcomers Shohei Ohtani and Ian Kinsler on a loaded Angels club that could challenge Houston in the American League West. … Drew Pomeranz, the former Ole Miss standout who won 17 games for Boston in 2017, avoided arbitration by agreeing to a 1-year, $8.5 million contract last week. Also signing pre-arbitration deals were former Taylorsville High star Billy Hamilton ($4.6M with Cincinnati) and Meridian Community College product Corey Dickerson ($5.9M with Tampa Bay). … Ex-Mississippi State standout Kendall Graveman has yet to reach an agreement with Oakland; he asked for $2.6M, the team offered $2.36M. … Columbia High product Ti’Quan Forbes is among a group of Chicago White Sox hitters gathered in Arizona this week for a mini-camp. Forbes, a second-round pick by Texas in 2014, was acquired by the ChiSox in a trade last summer. A 21-year-old third baseman/shortstop, Forbes is batting .242 for his pro career but hit 11 home runs in A-ball last season. … Worth noting (and reading): mlbtraderumors.com is now publishing installments of Tim Dillard’s “The Inner Monologue of @DimTillard.” The former Itawamba Community College star and onetime big leaguer, who is still an active pitcher in Milwaukee’s minor league system, is quite the entertaining fellow, as you’ll find from reading his posts. The hidden twinkies story is classic.
On Dec. 15, the Los Angeles Angels formally announced the signing of free agent Zack Cozart, the Ole Miss alumnus, to be their third baseman. Three days later, Boston announced that it was re-signing Mitch Moreland, the ex-Mississippi State standout, to play first base. Since then, there’s been nothing concrete on any of the bundle of other Mississippians looking for a 2018 team. Rumors have connected Lance Lynn to several teams, but as of today the former UM right-hander remains on the free agent market. Same for fellow former Rebels star Seth Smith and McComb native Jarrod Dyson, both outfielders and both coming off fairly productive seasons. Lynn, in particular, would seem to be an attractive piece. He is 72-47 with a 3.18 ERA for his career and has averaged 32 starts a year since 2013, excluding 2016, when he was out with Tommy John surgery. He was 11-8, 3.43 at age 30 last season for St. Louis. Quite a few big-name free agents are also still out there, and once a couple of them sign, the rush could be on. For now, we wait. … David Goforth, another Ole Miss product, signed a minor league contract with Washington in early December, and there are several other state-connected players seeking similar deals. Included are Tyler Moore, Alex Presley, Chris Coghlan, T.J. House, Scott Copeland, Louis Coleman and Joey Butler.